Commentary and information about public safety and security, intelligence and counterintelligence, open government and secrecy, and other issues in northern Idaho and eastern Washington.

Location: Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, United States

Raised in Palouse, WA. Graduated from Washington State University. US Army (Counterintelligence). US Secret Service (Technical Security Division) in Fantasyland-on-the-Potomac and Los Angeles. Now living in north Idaho.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Missing in Action: Ethics

On September 18, 2003, The Spokesman Review writer Tom Clouse penned an article headlined "Chief may just play hooky." The article recounts how Spokane Police Chief Roger Bragdon had reneged on his agreement to obtain a four-year college degree (at city expense) as a condition of being appointed to his $110,000 a year position. Bragdon, in a January 2000 letter to City Manager Pete Fortin, expressed "...full support of the degree requirement" and stated it would take him approximately two years to obtain a BA degree.

On September 22, 2003, The Spokesman Review editorial board wrote an opinion piece headlined "City should toss criterion for chief." Although the editorial board acknowledged being disappointed that Bragdon had "...reneged on a promise made so publicly..." (as if promises made privately are less important), it focused on whether or not the college degree requirement is even necessary. The editorial board, parroting Chief Bragdon's ratonalization that he has about 2000 hours of criminal justice training that didn't contribute to a formal degree, failed to make the important distinction between education and training. But that's a collateral issue for another post.

The issue in question is Police Chief Roger Bragdon's ethical performance.

Fast forward now to Tom Clouse's article Complaint filed against chief in the January 29, 2005, The Spokesman Review. From this article we learned that Bragdon had dismissed a traffic citation given to the son-in-law of former Spokane County Prosecutor Don Brockett. The dismissal came after Brockett contacted Bragdon and disputed the validity of the ticket. (Never mind that a commoner whose friend is not the police chief is usually told those disputes will be resolved in court.)

Though ethically questionable even if allowed, dismissing a ticket at the request of a former prosecutor is not the only issue here. It is a subsequent action taken by Bragdon that once again raises an ethical question. Clouse's article captured it in two sentences deep in the story:

After looking into the matter, Bragdon told Brockett that patrol officers had been automatically issuing tickets for defective equipment to the drivers of cars that get rear-ended. According to Brockett, Bragdon told him the department would no longer follow that policy.

Until former prosecutor Don Brockett's son-in-law received a traffic citation and Brockett complained to Bragdon, it was the policy of Roger Bragdon's Spokane Police Department to automatically issue tickets to the victims of rear end collision. The operative and troubling word is "automatically." It means that the ticket was going to be issued to the victim even if the officer had not observed the equipment infraction and had no probable cause to believe the infraction had occurred.

It's important to keep in mind that a traffic citation is issued at the discretion of the police officer. The officer also has the discretion to arrest the alleged offender, to take him into custody, handcuff him, and take him to jail where he will be held until he posts bail or is released by an order of the court. Refusing to sign a traffic citation, even an illegally "automatic" one can land a person in jail.

We don't know if any victims who received "automatic" tickets for being an accident victim fought the ticket in court or just paid the fine to avoid the inconvenience of disputing a citation that should never have been issued. We also don't know if any victims were taken to jail. The Mayor's office needs to investigate this as well.

When the issue of Bragdon's backtracking on his promise to get a four-year college degree was first raised, I expressed concern to some law enforcement colleagues that this was more an issue of ethics than education. Now we see that this same police chief had a departmental policy of issuing traffic citations for assumed but not observed violations of law.

The Spokane Police Guild was right to file a complaint against Chief Roger Bragdon. The Spokesman Review was right to report the complaint. Now we'll see if Mayor Jim West will look closer to see if Roger Bragdon's ethical performance warrants his being retained as Chief of Police.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Too bad you didn't want to know the true story and the reasons. You could have called but I guess it is easier to write about it and have no one comment on it. Don Brockett

4:25 PM, January 30, 2008  

Post a Comment

<< Home